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Stay-Home Orders, Relationships, and Your Recovery

Deni Blog – April 2020

Stay-Home Orders, Relationships, and Your Recovery

Until recently, it might have been hard to imagine being essentially cut off from the world – IRL at least – and forced to stay home for the foreseeable future. It may have been difficult to imagine most businesses shutting their doors and the need to wear facemasks when going outside, like something out of an apocalyptic movie.

Yet this is our reality for now.

Knowing the rest of the world is struggling with a common enemy, COVID-19, provides a little consolation, but we are still in unprecedented, unexpected, and unnerving times. This can increase symptoms for individuals struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders, can be especially challenging for those in recovery, and can exacerbate or initiate problems with domestic violence.

Most people depend on human contact for a sense of wellness. Isolation can lead to depression that includes sadness, irritability, and emptiness. Many feel that the unique environmental stressors of the COVID-19 crisis will create an unusually large proportion of the population who develop depression. This would well exceed the estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States (7.1%) who had at least one major depressive episode within the past year even prior to COVID-19.

Our bodies are not designed to handle social deprivation for long, say experts. Those living alone and lacking social opportunities are at risk, and this may include many people who are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Online recovery meetings and activities can be critical for the estimated 10 percent of Americans in recovery. Connecting virtually with supportive friends and family is also essential to prevent a recurrence of substance use disorder.

Some people find wellness in having a routine and maintaining independence through activities outside the home such as a job, school, or exercise regime, but these activities outside the home are no longer an option. This lack of an outlet might be exacerbated by being physically stuck with people in your home for an extended period of time, including parents, a spouse, and kids. Tight quarters are creating anxiety for many and testing even the strongest of relationships. This can be especially true if you live with people who are unsupportive of your recovery.

Whether you are feeling alone and socially isolated or are about to suffocate from those in your own home, you do have options. You may be struggling with depression or anxiety, but there are things within your control that you can do to help. Here are some tips:

  • Begin each day with a short meditation or mindfulness practice of gratitude. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness, and helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
  • Make a daily schedule to help you stick with a routine. This can reduce stress and anxiety and serves as a great visual for keeping you focused.
  • Eat as healthy as possible. The memes can be hilarious about the “COVID 19” (pounds we might gain during this time of isolation), but eating good food will make you feel better physically and mentally.
  • Get some physical activity, whether that is yoga in your living room, dancing in the kitchen, or a short walk around your neighborhood (following local guidelines of course). Regular physical activity and exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood.
  • Get your zzz’s. Sleep is critical to physical health and effective functioning of the immune system, and a key promoter of emotional wellness and mental health, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), an organization that has actually released guidelines specific to sleeping well during COVID-19. Adequate sleep can help alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety.

Other tips for coping with the added stress of COVID-19 can be found on the CDC website here.

Sadly, some people are more fearful of harm within their own home than any coronavirus. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) states that, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. During this pandemic, one Atlanta-area hospital is seeing a 15% increase in domestic violence cases in their facility. The New York Times says “hotlines are lighting up” with abuse reports and that Italy, Spain, and China have all seen similarly frightening upticks.  The US has seen these increases as well with Chicago, Boston, and Dallas reporting increases in domestic violence reports of 14, 22, and 20% respectively.

Domestic violence, now often referred to as “intimate terrorism,” always increases when people spend more time together such as during the holidays. It also increases when people (and even animals) are in close quarters, with decreased space.  The coronavirus and resulting “stay-home” orders have increased these issues just about everywhere that (understandably) put restrictions in place.

Even experts agree that victims of domestic violence should disregard orders to stay at home if they need to seek immediate refuge. As confinement drags on, the danger may intensify. Get out of an unsafe domestic relationship immediately. Traditional shelters could be high-risk for contracting the coronavirus due to close quarters, so call a friend, your sponsor, or other family, anyone supportive of you, and see if you can stay with them.

We can minimize the effects COVID-19’s stay-home orders have on our mental health, mood, relationships, and recovery. Coping with this stress creatively and effectively can make you, the people you care about, and your recovery stronger.

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